India is everything and nothing you expect. Just as it’s crowded, vast, hot, sultry, stinky, dirty, exhausting, ramshackle, delicious, spicy, frustrating, bright and colourful, it is liberating, magical, moving, and heartbreakingly beautiful. And no matter how prepared you think you are, or how much you’ve sweated at hot yoga, India will always deliver the unexpected.
I didn’t expect to love the place so quickly, to feel comfortable and at ease and be planning my return visit less than half way through my first. Nor did I expect to see a predatory mama monkey jump out of a tree to steal a lady’s ice cream – but I’m so thankful that I did.
And as magnificent a city as it is, I didn’t really expect Asia’s 36th best restaurant to be found in Mumbai, or, if it were there that it would be serving Japanese food. Least of all did I expect to find Vince Vaughn working the room, slinging sashimi platters and pouring sake.
At the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, by the harbour in Mumbai, Wasabi by Morimoto is a culinary anomaly. Sure, many of the world’s best restaurants occupy real estate in hotels, and plenty of luxury joints offer ‘international’ cuisine for travellers looking to find comfort in the familiar. But amongst the street vendors shilling 20-cent variations on spicy fried potato and battered peasant veg (and with over 4,000 miles between Mumbai and Tokyo) specialising in raw fish and fresh wasabi takes pluck.
On our one night staying in the glorious, decadent, old-world Palace wing of the hotel, we extend the indulgence to dinner. Through Mumbai’s first licensed drinking hole, The Harbour Bar, we ride up to Wasabi in the glass lift. The doors open to reveal a modern space, all warm wood and contemporary light fittings, in direct contrast to the marble, crystal chandeliers and silk carpets of our sleeping quarters.
As we take our seats in the almost empty room, Vince Vaughn materialises by our table. Now, there are two things I didn’t know about Vince Vaughn before I visited Mumbai: one) he is Indian, and two) he has a deep appreciation for Japanese food.
I stare madly as he offers to help us order; I wonder where Indian Owen Wilson is hiding as he stops by to deliver our white fish carpaccio with hot oil and yuzu soy sauce (1575 INR). The flounder is sheer, growing slowly opaque as the hot sesame oil cooks through. It is light, soft and creamy, with no signs of freezer burn or jet lag.
I stifle a giggle as Indian Vince Vaughn makes sure we’re enjoying the fish; he smiles his goofy, googly-eyed smile, his curly quiff bouncing as he nods. Our shrimp tempura sushi roll (660 INR) tastes clean and fresh, the meat sweet and fleshy. Indian Vince Vaughn is ‘grateful for the pleasure to serve’ us, and tells us so repeatedly. He’s less ruddy in person, but has the same sweaty-cheese sheen as in the movies. With the arrival of our pork kakuni (1950 INR) I wonder if he served Oprah, or Obama when they visited the palace; maybe they’re old friends from Chicago? The pig shows every hour of the 18 it clocks during cooking – it’s meltingly soft, subtly fatty and served with another yuzu/soy combo sauce and superfine mashed potato. I stare at Indian Vince’s handsome face and note his forehead looks bigger on screen; he again let’s us know what a ‘pleasure it has been to bring us pleasure’. Such a smooth talker, I can see what Jennifer Aniston saw in him.
We settle the bill and Indian Vince Vaughn walks us to the lift, bubbling over with the pleasure he has taken serving us. He’s still talking when the glass doors close on his humbly bowing form, and chattering soundlessly as he disappears from our sight. I never expected to eat excellent Japanese food in Mumbai, or spend $200 on any meal in India, and I certainly never expected that I would pleasure Vince Vaughn. Namaste.

Wasabi by Morimoto